The Story Behind Luke Bryan’s Success

With a new album out, the country music superstar opens up about his chart-topping career and what's left on his bucket list.
Luke Bryan's new album is called “Born Here Live Here Die Here.”
Luke Bryan's new album is called “Born Here Live Here Die Here.”
Jim Wright

Luke Bryan has scored hit after hit since entering the country music scene in 2007. You’d think he’d feel some sort of pressure to keep that momentum going as he looked toward his seventh studio album release this month. But the country superstar says he feels pretty lucky that he’s never “operated in the world of immense amount of pressure.”

Except, that is, for the pressure he felt prior to releasing his sophomore album, “Doin’ My Thing” in 2009. “I had to have some hit songs to just really keep my career going,” he told HuffPost.

And going it did. With plenty of awards and accolades to his name, Bryan now says he’s just enjoying the ride.

His philosophy? “Just do your best, work your butt off, trust your gut, and the rest will take care of itself.”

HuffPost caught up with Bryan shortly before his album dropped about the new music and more.

It’s quite a different year, but based on your Instagram updates, it seems like you’ve been making the most out of the quarantine situation, playing pranks on the family and even planting a cornfield [at home in Tennessee].

From cornfields to western trout, all of my ideas that I’ve created are built for social distancing. I’ve kind of made the most of the year and just trying to keep a positive attitude and just praying to get back to normalcy and praying to be in front of fans somewhere in the near future.

What surprised you the most about yourself during this time?

Well, I guess what surprised me the most is it took me about a month to kind of settle into this. I didn’t realize how much I operated just deprived of sleep for so many years. You’ve got to understand, since mid-March, I go to bed at 10:00 and wake up at 7:00, and I’ve never been in the situation where I had a structure like that. And certainly, when I added “American Idol” into the mix, it just became traveling East Coast, West Coast, concerts, sleeping on a plane, so the fact that even about two months in, I was like, “Oh my God, this is what it feels like to be really rested.”

It probably feels pretty good. Don’t want to get too used to it, though.

Yeah. Before we know it, I’ll be back to a walking zombie.

You’re on the cusp of releasing your seventh studio album, which is crazy, and you’ve already released some singles. Do you still get butterflies on the heels of releasing new music?

I wouldn’t say butterflies, it’s more just excitement and you’re ready for fans to hear new stuff and you’re ready to get it in their hands and get the feedback. This is an interesting album because certainly most of the time when you release an album, you release it based on one hit, and the fact that I’ve had three No. 1s on the album before I’ve ever even released it, it’s like, “God, it’s been so successful already, I’m almost scared to release anything else.” You don’t want to jinx it. But the bottom line, it’s just more excitement and I’m ready for fans to hear the whole package.

The title track, “Born Here Live Here Die Here,” speaks to where and how you grew up in Georgia. Why did you want to channel that?

Some people have been like, “Well, you were born there, you lived there, but you didn’t die there. You kind of moved on. But the beauty of the song is it really speaks to the people I grew up with. My dad is that person. My dad loves small-town life and I love the small-town life. And my thing is to just kind of celebrate those people that love their small town, love their rural roots and love the environment, and they’re content and happy living there. And I think when they hear that song and they hear me sing about it, obviously they know that I was born from that type of environment, but I think me still singing about it is very endearing, and I think that they know that, hey, I still love them and I’m still thinking about them.

“Born Here Live Here Die Here" was released on Aug. 7.
“Born Here Live Here Die Here" was released on Aug. 7.

“One Margarita” has become a huge hit, and it’s your 25th No. 1 single. The song, to me, has the word “hit” written all over it. Did you feel that way when you heard the song for the first time?

First time I heard it, never had a doubt. Huge hit. I mean, it just felt like it was hitting on every sensory that you could want a song to hit on. It felt fun, it told the story of going on vacation, it told the story of drinking margaritas, tropical-ness, summertime. When you hear “one margarita,” all that stuff, it’s got earworms in it musically. It checked every box for me to be what I thought it was going to be. And sometimes, you have songs that are hits, but they’re not crazy big hits. To have this one and to feel like it’s a hit and then for it just to be a crazy big, big hit is pretty exciting.

Something uplifting is what some people may need right now. Maybe that’s part of it, too.

Yeah. People keep asking me, “Were you nervous to put it out?” And I never really thought about it. I just felt like, “We’re going into summertime.” Just from personal experience, no matter what, people are still going to be having some margaritas, whether they’re dancing around their pool and partying or whether they’re on a boat in the middle of nowhere on a lake or something, so I just felt like, either way, the song will work and decided to put it out and really haven’t looked back.

On the flip side, you have “Build Me A Daddy,” which is a much more serious song about a child who lost his dad and takes a much more serious tone. Why is it important to have that balance on a record like this?

Well, the beauty of country music is I can go there on all of these subjects. One minute, I can be singing about drinking margaritas and knocking boots, and then the next song, I can be singing about how a child has lost his dad and the way he talks about it, and just that whole moment in the song. Me and my producer, we talked a lot about the song. We kept going, “Gosh, is it too sad? Is it too sad? Is it going to wreck people too much?” And then we were like, “Well, is ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ too sad?”

When you look back over the history of country music, country music has always tackled loss and country singers have never been ashamed to sing about it. And this song is just something that’s really special. Anybody I ever played it for, it just really affected them emotionally, and that was certainly enough to go record it and put it on the album.

You’ve had one hit after another, to what do you owe your success?

Oh gosh. Definitely a combination of hard work and luck. I’m a team-oriented person. I kind of kept it all inside with the same group of people and I listen to people’s opinions, too. Even if I have a new person or if a new person that got hired at the label, if they come in, I take their opinion and I try to step back from who I am and look at the big picture.

With all the decisions that you have to make in a career like this, you’re not going to bat a thousand, you’re going to have good days and bad days and you’re going to have success stories. But with me, I can sit around with the people that I trust in these decisions and we can all go, “All right. Let’s do it.” That’s the main thing, just make a decision, move on it, own it, and I’ve just really, really been blessed that more times than not, it seems to have been the right move.

Like many artists, Bryan had to postpone his summer tour due to COVID-19.
Like many artists, Bryan had to postpone his summer tour due to COVID-19.
Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images

One of your older songs that I recently returned to is “Play It Again.” Is that a song that stands out to you in your career?

I think that no matter if I would have performed it, I think it was just destined to be a huge hit. It’s hook-y, it puts off the same vibe as “One Margarita” does. And then throughout all that, there’s this love story going on and then the guy ties it in by playing the guitar for her, and it just felt like right. Gosh, when we kick into it, people just lose their minds, and that’s what’s fun about this business, being able to find a song like that and then watch the fans react to it.

How do you throttle the line between songs written by other people and songs that you write? You started off as a songwriter.

It’s tricky. What’s interesting about this album, my thing is I try to write as much as I can for each album. But you know what? I try to listen and find songs for every album and I put my songs and other people’s songs, I try to put them up against one another, and if my song wins, it’s on the album, and if my song loses, it’s not on the album. And sometimes I’ve cost myself a lot of money in that process.

But at the end of the day, whether I’ve written them or whether somebody else has, it’s all about making that album that I can really be proud of and hold my head up high about. And it was funny, somebody referenced that it’s a 10-song album and I co-wrote only three of the songs on there, but we recorded about 16 songs, and I think all six of the other songs, I think I wrote those, so I guess I kind of took out the red pen and crossed a lot of my songs out. But I still think a lot of those songs that I wrote that didn’t make this initial album will certainly see the light of day.

You’re also an “American Idol” judge. Any word when and if you’ll be back for another season?

We’re still in the meticulous negotiations, but things are looking positive for that and I’m very excited about it.

Bryan sits at the "American Idol" judges' table alongside Lionel Richie and Katy Perry.
Bryan sits at the "American Idol" judges' table alongside Lionel Richie and Katy Perry.
Eric McCandless via Getty Images

You’ve been checking things off your bucket list this summer. What’s left?

Oh gosh. What’s left? Well, my wife and I, we’re heading to South Carolina in a little bit and I just got to get the album out, my 9-year-old, he turned 10 on Aug. 8, and I just still go outside, catch some fish, spend some time outdoors, and I’ve got to get all of this sweet corn out of the field.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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